As I scroll through the to-do list on my phone (yes, it’s that long), I breathe out a big, honking sigh. “Check to see if there’s anything else we can do from the energy audit” has been on there for more than a year. For God’s sake, that to-do item is older than my younger son. While I’m still not giving up on my dream of installing more insulation, I do like quick-hit, easy tips to go green.
In addition to drawing on my own knowledge, I asked some fellow green bloggers for their best tips to go green. Here are some ways you can get the biggest bang for the least time and effort:
Yes, I’m a boring person who drives a Prius and goes no more than 5 miles above the speed limit. But! Slowing down and being a smoother driver really can save you a serious amount of fuel. According to FuelEconomy.gov, you use 7% more gas (an extra $0.17$gallon) for every 5 miles above 50 mph you drive. Slamming on the brakes and the gas can also reduce your fuel economy 10 to 40%.
Celebrate Meatless Mondays
Animal agriculture, including dairy and meat, globally produce about 14% of the world’s greenhouse gases. While most of us aren’t going to go vegan anytime soon, more people eating vegetarian on a regular basis could make a big difference. The great thing is that there are a lot of awesome plant-based meals out there. I love Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything Vegetarian cookbook, which doesn’t fall into the common trap of just subbing out meat substitutes for real meat. All of the recipes stand on their own accord. Other vegetable-based dishes suggested by people on my Green and Sustainable Parenting Facebook group include vegetable chili with beans instead of meat, meatless tacos, chickpea curry, vegetable stir fry, vegetable frittatas, and Gado Gado. If the kids are apathetic at best, check out my post on eating vegetarian with kids.
Buy green power
Replacing fossil fuels with renewables for power generation is one of the biggest things we can do to reduce climate change and air pollution. This is also one place where putting your money where your mouth is has big effects! About half of the country’s population has the option to buy renewable electricity, either from your power supplier or a company competing with them. Many of suppliers offer the option to buy 20%, 50%, or 100% green power, particularly wind. While the actual electrons that reach your house are no different, buying green power supports the development of renewable power projects that provide electricity to people across the country. EnergySavers.gov has a tool for searching to see if your area has this option. Even if you can’t buy green power directly from your utility, you can buy Renewable Energy Credits, which support projects in a similar way. For more information, check out your utility’s website or the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s guide to purchasing green power.
If you’re a little more ambitious, look into putting solar on your roof via leasing or a power purchase agreement. Unlike buying your own panels, both leasing and power purchase agreements allow a third-party company to own the panels. With a lease, you pay to eventually own the panels. With a power purchase agreement, you don’t even pay for them – you just lend the solar company your roof and then buy the electricity they produce. We have a power purchase agreement with SolarCity and have had a terrific experience. We also pay about the same amount or less for that electricity than we would through our local utility. (This isn’t sponsored – I just really love them!)
Be aware of the household cleaning products you buy or make your own
Many cleaning products can be harmful to both your family’s health and the water that we all share. You can either buy green cleaning products or make your own. I’m terrible at cleaning and DIY in general, so I’ll probably never make all of them myself. But it’s surprisingly easy to use vinegar and baking sofa in a lot of circumstances. And the worst effects you’ll get from those are a science fair-style volcano! Check out Heartful Habits for a run-down of labels used on green cleaners and Every Home Remedy for 69 cleaning hacks using vinegar.
Recycle (or at least unplug) your old, extra fridge
Do you have an old fridge in your basement or garage that you use for holidays? Bring it to the dump! Refrigerators use a lot of energy compared to most household appliances. But they’ve gotten much more efficient over the years. According to the Department of Energy, a new Energy Star fridge uses 40% less energy than conventional models from 2001. In addition, an older fridge that’s not well-maintained could be leaking hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), the gas that replaced CFCs that harm the ozone layer. Unfortunately, HFCs are nearly 10,000 times more potent as a greenhouse gas contributing to climate change than carbon dioxide.
Try cloth diapers
Kris at Growing Wild Roots recommends trying out cloth diapers. While this isn’t the easiest change, it’s so much simpler than it used to be. Plus, it saves a ton of money and substantially reduces your waste. Check out a comprehensive cloth diaper guide at Growing Wild Roots as well as my lessons learned from several years of using them!
Use fans – even if you have air conditioning
Seriously. (Told you these ideas were simple!) Our house has terrible air circulation. It just wasn’t built for it. I have no idea how the people before us who didn’t have central A/C survived. (But then they also had 8 kids in a 950 square foot house, so it was already bonkers.) Unfortunately, Washington D.C. in the summer is relentlessly hot and muggy. So with Chris and the boys home much of the time, we’re constantly running the air conditioning. This summer, we set up a couple fans in the upstairs, which has allowed us to turn our thermostat three to four degrees higher. As fans use very little electricity, that can make a big difference in terms of energy saved.
Choose reusable products over disposables
Heather at Finding Our Green Life encourages moms to be more thoughtful about our buying habits. The number of plastic baggies you use every day can add up quickly, whether you’re packing snacks for kids or lugging your breast pump equipment back and forth. (I think Chris was relieved when I stopped pumping for no other reason than there weren’t nearly as many wet ziplock bags cluttering our counter.) To replace the disposables, Finding Our Green Life has a post that covers five great reusable products!
This isn’t exactly “easy,” but there are a lot of fantastic resources out there if you want to do more. Susanna at Healthy Green Savvy recommends Paige Wolf’s book Spit that Out! especially if you feel like living green makes you the odd one out in your community. Other references include The Zero Footprint Baby (written by the executive director of the US Climate Action Network!), Green Mama and The Ultimate Guide to Green Parenting.
Connect with like-minded folks
As Kermit says, sometimes it isn’t easy being green. It’s especially difficult if you family or friends don’t support your efforts. Finding folks who are also interested in taking this journey with you can be so encouraging. In person, you may want to look into family-friendly events put on by local Sierra Club chapters. Online, I’d invite you to participate in our Green and Sustainable Parenting Facebook group!
For more green living posts, check out my resources for sustainable parents and post on composting with kids. And be sure to follow the blog on Facebook and join our Green and Sustainable Parenting Facebook group!